Saturday, August 09, 2008

Mystery vs. thriller vs. farce

The detective story is about solving the problem, getting to the center of the labyrinth and restoring some sort of order. The crime story is about chain reaction, about events and the ripples that move outward from them. The detective story demands greater story coherence; crime stories are more about style and energy. Chandler, who wrote mysteries, made story mistakes, and we forgive him what we wouldn't countenance for a second in Agatha Christie because his style was just so utterly, joyfully, mind-blowingly wonderful. ... Story works best when it just happens on the page. At the same we, as readers, crave shock and event. From the writer's point of view, the big and surprising twist creates a huge amount of energy -- and always, always problems later. Novels, even novellas written to order for Playboy, are written over time and tend not to be seamless. Perhaps this is for the best -- it's another way in which they can reflect the mess of life.
From the Jacket Copy book blog on the LA Times site.

(Not sure what he's referring to when he mentions "novellas written for Playboy." Do they publish serial novellas?)

This is like something Cris and I were discussing earlier this year. I wrote in my notes for my current novel:
Thrillers and farces, she said, work by ratcheting up tension, and by setting up a precarious situation and then setting everyone loose. Everyone has a goal, usually conflicting, and as they all try to fulfill their goals, things get more and more chaotic whether it's a thriller or a farce. People feel compelled to thrust themselves into a situation, thus destabilizing both the new situation and making it impossible for them to return to their previous state. She used the word "pressure" to describe this effect: the characters' character traits create "internal pressure" that compels them to do these things. Add the other characters and the setting and you have the ingredients of a farce, or a thriller if the characters' goals are sinister enough.
Situation comedy, she went on, works a different way: by setting up what she called traps for the characters. She referred to a film we saw part of on TV, "The 40 Year Old Virgin," in which the characters suffer a series of situational setbacks -- for example, when Steve Carrel and Catherine Keener first try to have sex, her teenage daughter bursts in on them. ... She also said something that was very pithy, if slightly unrelated: In a mystery, the story is resolved when the crime is solved. In a thriller, the mystery may be solved without a resolution to the story.

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